How to return safely to a post-lockdown workplace

How To | Property & Construction | Sponsored

We are currently in the midst of a COVID-19 enforced lockdown, which has impacted businesses across all sectors and industries in a plethora of ways.

The way the workplace operates will change beyond recognition, and companies should be making changes in order to adapt to the new working world that is on the horizon.

Business Leader and Interaction – Bath-based office design and fit-out specialist firm – partnered to create a guide to returning back to the workplace.

Workplace assessment

With health and safety the most pressing concern for employees returning to their place of work, business leaders will need to check that everything is in order.

This lockdown will change how businesses operate, and employees’ behaviour and attitudes towards their offices will have changed. A larger focus on ‘visible’ cleanliness and feeling safe will be present among workers.

Before the return, business owners will need to conduct research on where it is possible to apply social distancing. This can be achieved by creating extra space and de-cluttering offices. Systems will also change for lunch routines, how restrooms will be used by a large workforce, how shift changes will work, and how communal spaces/meeting rooms will be kept clean.

To make sure your staff are happy with your plan following an assessment – ask them! Your staff will value that you’ve checked with them, as they will often think of something that you may have missed.

Deborah Wilder, Head of Workplace Research & Strategy, Interaction, said: “This is about connecting people again and reassuring them that you have their best interests at heart. Involving your employees in the process will help them feel more comfortable about returning to the workplace and will promote a culture of trust and collaboration.”

Communication and team training

Following the assessment, being open and honest about the situation is paramount. Then, clearly construct how your new measures will be implemented.

If new team instructions need to be introduced, make sure the leadership team are informed so that they can police the new phasing in of workplace instructions.

Health and safety protocols will need to be enshrined to all involved, and it is the business leaders’ role to implement this.

Wilder comments: “Over the last few weeks many senior managers will have had to quickly adapt to virtual leadership. Now they need to switch to practical thinking to reduce contact with too many people by setting up fixed teams or partnering, staggering arrival and departure times, and allowing for greater flexibility among team members.”

Introduction of new safety measures

Whether it is the two metre social distancing rule, hand sanitisers or replacing security technology (such as finger print scanners) – or completely restricting/staggering what time certain employees work – new measures will be introduced.

Increased frequency of general cleaning and changing of recycling and bins will be needed, as well as the introduction of PPE for all employees who need it.

Depending on the type of workplace – office, manufacturing, etc – organisations will need to consider everything that employees share. From door handles to phones to pens – there needs to be clear measures that protect all.

Receptions and grouped workstation areas will need to be stripped bare of all unnecessary items, such as personal memorabilia or anything that multiple people could touch and interact with.

Hayley Blacker, Director, Interaction, said: “One way walking routes, perspex screens between desks and hands free foot operated door openers. These are just some of the design and furniture adaptations that we are installing for clients. Our workplace strategy team are also helping them think about policy, risk assessments and behavioural measures such as new protocols for meetings and for receiving post.”

Phased return

Regardless of government instructions, a structured and phased return for all employees will be needed. By slowly reintroducing workers in stages, the safety measures a business leader has created can be adapted and changed to fit the office better – and satisfy its employees. These are unprecedented times, and the ability to pivot to the latest changes will be crucial.

Having an office that can be moved and create extra space – should it be needed – is advised if more employees are to return.

Gary Duguid, Commercial Director, Interaction, comments: “Our designers are working closely with clients on space planning for social distancing, signage and wayfinding, to allow people to come back to the office as soon as possible while ensuring safety is the top priority.”

Are co-working spaces going to become more popular?

The outbreak of COVID-19 has seen mass office blocks empty – as lockdown and the subsequent remote working has become the new-normal for millions across the country.

With the emphasis rightly on the safety of everyone – smaller co-working facilities will become more popular and readily available for when it is necessary for workers to collaborate in person. The result of this will be some businesses looking at reducing the size of their offices. Rather than having mass desks, there will be more structure and more of a focus on using the technology adapted in home working to co-operate with different teams within the same business.

Dieter Wood, Managing Director, Interaction said: “We create co-working spaces across the UK for several providers, including Runway East, Clarendon and Ethical Property. While the initial effect of COVID-19 was alarming for them, they are seeing enquiries increase and expect the market to be bigger than ever due to large businesses rationalising their multi-office portfolios as well as greater demand from SMEs.”

What adaptations will be needed to your work space?

As workplace research, design and build experts, Interaction’s team of psychologists, designers, furniture consultants and project managers can provide a full package to support your business in returning to the office. This includes planning, risk assessments, policy and communications, designing and delivering physical adaptations to ensure social distancing, hygiene and safety, as well as logistics and storage. Interaction then review any physical and behavioural initiatives on a regular basis and help you plan for the future, including your longer term workplace strategy.

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